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Thorns' humble hero

Shy Sinclair becomes scoring beast on the soccer field


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Christine Sinclair of the Portland Thorns FC charges forward in the new teams game against the Seattle Reign FC.When told that a story will be written about her, Christine Sinclair blushes.

“Oh, great,” she says.

Standing on the Jeld-Wen Field pitch in sweats after a video session, the Portland Thorns FC striker looks nervous and fidgety as a recorder is held to her face. She sputters often in embarrassed laughter.

“She’s one of my closest friends, but she’ll come across as shy when you first meet her,” says Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who has known Sinclair for 13 years. “She’s one of the most humble human beings you’ll ever meet.”

Sinclair says her shyness is not an act, nor can it be attributed to the reserved Canadian stereotype.

“I’m a quiet person,” she says. “I do my talking on the soccer field.”

When she speaks with her boots, Sinclair could not be any more different from the bashful 29-year-old she is in interviews. Sinclair has become one of the greatest attacking players to ever play women’s soccer. With 145 international goals, she trails only Abby Wombach (152) and Mia Hamm (158). She has all the physical tools of a great goal scorer — speed, power, height, ruthlessness and intelligence.

“She’s a beast athletically,” Thorns striker Danielle Foxhoven says. “She’s fast, she’s big, she’s tall, she’s strong. But, she thinks. She can use all of those skills because she thinks faster than anybody. She thinks on another level. The good Lord blessed her.”

LeBlanc says: “She destroys people — not literally, but just in how smart she can be as a player."

It is quite possible that Sinclair’s soccer IQ is in her blood. Two of her uncles, Bruce and Brian Gant, played for the NASL-era Portland Timbers. Sinclair began playing soccer in Burnaby, British Columbia, when she was 4, after her parents saw that they couldn't keep her away from her brother’s soccer

practices.

“I was always tagging along at my brother’s practices,” Sinclair says. “My parents signed me up as soon as they could. Soccer was just in my family. It was what we did. I played baseball and basketball throughout high school. I was OK, but soccer was No. 1, for sure.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - The National Womens Soccer Leagues first player of the month is Portland Thorns FC striker Christine Sinclair, leaping to gain control of the ball and avoid Seattle Reign defender Elli Reed.When it came time to chose a college, it was not much of a choice. Sinclair had known then-University of Portland coach Clive Charles — a former teammate of her uncles — almost her entire life. For a time, her family even rented a house in

Burnaby from Charles.

“My family had known Clive forever,” Sinclair says. “It was close to home; it was far enough away from home. I have family that live here, and it was a soccer school.”

At UP, Sinclair led the Pilots to national championships in 2002 and 2005, won two Hermann Trophies as the nation's best player, and during her senior season, set the all-time NCAA Division-I scoring record with 39 goals.

Since her days with the Pilots, Sinclair has called Portland home. When the National Women’s Soccer League was formed, it asked all U.S., Canada and Mexico national team players to list the top four cities where they would like to play. Sinclair jokes that she left little to chance.

“I wrote down Portland as all four of my cities,” she says, smiling. “No, (I didn’t). But when I heard about this league, this was the only place I wanted to play. It’s home for me. Ever since going to UP, I’ve never left.”

When it was announced that Sinclair would play for the Thorns, she was ecstatic.

“It’s nice to finally be playing at home (again),” Sinclair says. “With the national team, we’re constantly living out of bags. So it’s nice to finally be situated in one place, and you can unpack and sort of set up a life.”

It was fitting that Sinclair scored the first goal in Thorns history, in Portland’s opener at FC Kansas City.

Chicago Red Stars, Sinclair has five points (two goals, one assist). On Tuesday, she was named as the NWSL's first player of the month.

And the Thorns lead the first-year league with 10 points (3-0-1 record), as they prepare for Sunday's 3 p.m. PT road game against Chicago.

Sinclair says she is still adjusting to her teammates after missing almost the entire preseason on national team duty.

“It’s getting there,” she says. “We’ve progressed with every game. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. With a lot of us missing preseason, we’re learning as we go. Hopefully in a few games we’ll be hitting our stride.”

Sinclair has become one of the faces of women’s soccer.

“It’s not something that I’m the most comfortable with,” she says. “But at the same time, I understand it’s my responsibility. I want young kids who come to our games to know there’s a future for them in the sport.”

And when those young kids watch Sinclair play, many will leave with the identical impression of her.

It's an impression that Sinclair is too shy or modest to verbalize herself, but Foxhoven says it without hesitation: “She’s the best in the world.”